Tom Robinson writes a detailed scout report about the Brazil and Santos striker, Kaio Jorge.
The name Santos is synonymous with youth production. From the club that gave rise to Pele, the amount of superstars that have emerged from Vila Belmiro in the last 20 years is truly staggering. From the likes of Robinho, Elano and Diego in the early 2000s, to the golden boy Neymar bringing home the Libertadores in 2011, and more recently Gabigol and Rodrygo going for huge sums, it’s not just quantity but quality as well.
The next craque to assume the mantle of Santos’ latest wonderkid? Step forward 18-year-old strike sensation Kaio Jorge. Born in the north-eastern coastal town of Olinda and on the books of the Peixe since he was 10, Kaio has been highly rated for quite some time but a flurry of interest from the likes of Juventus, Chelsea, Lille and a whole host of other clubs has seen him firmly thrust into the limelight.
Kaio became the club’s sixth youngest debutant when he made his debut in September 2018 but it was for the Brazil U17s where he made his true breakthrough. His five goals in seven games, including one in the final, spearheaded Brazil to victory in the U17 World Cup last year and he was also awarded the tournament’s Bronze Boot. His rise has continued this year as he became more of a first team regular and scored his first goal for Santos in his Copa Libertadores debut against Defensa y Justicia.
A lot of media outlets have dubbed Kaio the ‘next Cristiano Ronaldo’ but these comparisons are wide of the mark. Aside from the unfairness of judging him against one of the game’s all-time greats, neither Kaio’s style of play nor physical attributes bear much resemblance to the Portuguese superstar and this supposed likeness seems to have purely been drummed up by the links to Juventus or some creative licence by well-known agent Giuliano Bertolucci, who represents a stable of Brazilian internationals.
The temptation to ascribe lazy parallels to former Santos graduates is one that should be avoided and by the same token it would be wrong to compare him to the likes of Neymar or Robinho. The nearest equivalent would most likely be Gabriel Barbosa but the following analysis will show why we should be focussing on Kaio and not who he might remind us of.
As you would expect from any young Brazilian prospect, Kaio boasts supreme technique and has fantastic quick feet and skills. He strikes the ball extremely well, both from moving and dead ball scenarios and has that innate ability to shift the ball quickly, either to beat a man in a one-on-one duel or to create half a yard of space to get a shot away.
While not being an out-and-out skill merchant like some Brazilian attacking talents, Kaio does have the invention, creativity and jeitinho, to try a moment of magic that can turn a game and crucially has the technique and skill to pull it off.
One memorable example was for the national team against Croatia. In the images below you can see Kaio drawing two defenders as he gets onto a clipped ball into the area. Kaio shapes to volley the ball but instead pulls off an audacious and perfectly disguised back-heel to assist his teammate.
Kaio is at his best when he plays through the middle so that he can take advantage of his clinical finishing and goal-scoring prowess. At every age group, both with Santos and the Brazil national team, Kaio has plundered plenty of goals. At the U17 World Cup he attempted more shots (28) than any other player and finished as joint-second top scorer with 5 goals.
Most of Kaio’s goals come from inside the penalty box on his favoured right foot but he still has a lot of variation in his finishing. Whether it be simple tap-ins, cool placed one-on-one efforts or more instinctive efforts and snap shots, Kaio scores all sorts of goals. While not renowned for his height or aerial ability, his heading is decent too.
His goal against Defensa y Justicia on his Libertadores debut displays the ice in his veins as he gets in behind the defence, uses his pace to carry the ball forward and, despite a last ditch challenge that could have easily sent him off balance, composes himself to finish beyond the goalkeeper and win the game.
Though his record of one goal in 15 senior appearances may not jump off the page, it’s worth bearing in mind that most of his appearances have been fleeting cameos off the bench. What’s more, his stats of an xG of 0.63 and average shots on target of 47.5% are good indications that he’s on the right track, albeit from a small sample size.
One trait that sets Kaio Jorge apart from his peers is his intelligent movement. On a basic level, Kaio has good pace and acceleration which allows him to get in behind defences, but it’s not an exceptional kind of searing pace, like Vinicius Jnr for example. As he can’t rely on pace alone, it’s as much about how he moves as opposed to how fast he can move and he makes lots of clever movements to give himself the extra yard to draw defenders out of position.
Given his great mobility, he’s not afraid to work the channels and keep defences guessing but he does his best work more centrally. He comes alive in the box and makes sharp, decisive darts to get into good goal-scoring positions, such as this example against Argentina.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of his movement is his ability to drop deep into pockets of space, either to find half a yard or to link with teammates. His spatial awareness is good enough that he’s often initiating attacking moves and playing quick combinations to then allow him to run into the space he has helped create. His passing averages at 83.6% which again highlights how well he links with teammates.
Focussing once again on his goal versus Defensa y Justicia, we see how Kaio Jorge is actually also involved in initially beginning the attack before getting on the end of the move to score.
Arguably the most under-rated aspect of Kaio Jorge’s game is his work rate. As well as the aforementioned willingness to run the channels and drop deep, when possession is lost he is more than happy to get back and try to win the ball in the opposition’s half. Kaio Jorge makes an average of 3.11 defensive duels per game and wins 75% of his recoveries in the opponent’s half.
The example below demonstrates this determination as it sees him get back to dispossess the French player and quickly launch a counter-attack against an unorganised and unprotected defensive line.
Given the growing importance of forwards pressing from the front, it bodes well that Kaio Jorge has already incorporated this into his style of play.
Areas to improve
As with any young player making his first steps in the senior game, there are inevitable areas for an inexperienced rookie to improve upon. While by no means diminutive, Kaio Jorge could do with improving his strength as he will be exposed to more physically imposing defenders. This is something that you would imagine will naturally develop but this, alongside his lack of game time, would suggest that he is not ready for a move to a big European club just yet.
No doubt he will be looking to improve his goal tally but, as previously mentioned, it’s not a cause for a concern and in general he should look to work on his all round game, such as his decision making and becoming less reliant on his right foot.
Nevertheless, all the signs are there that Kaio Jorge could be a very special player and it’ll also be interesting to see if he can continue to make an impact for the Selecao. While there have been a number of fantastic wide attacking options available for the national team, there has been a lack of options for the number 9 jersey. While Firmino and Gabriel Jesus are elite level options, neither has ever nailed down a spot as the undoubted star striker, so the emergence of prospects like Kaio Jorge, born just six months before Brazil’s last World Cup triumph in 2002, bodes well for the national team’s future ambitions.
With a hefty release clause of around £70mil, it’ll take a princely sum to prise Kaio away from Santos but it certainly seems to be only a matter of time before he makes the inevitable step up. Fortunately, the next Santos starlet is never far away to step into their place and it won’t be long before we’re talking about Renyer or Sandry once Kaio Jorge has flown the nest.
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